|Adorned in flowers thanks to |
some very sweet girls!
I celebrated my 24th birthday this past Thursday in my new home in South Sudan. I had in mind something small and humble- this was not the case.
The celebration was a daylong event and as far from simple as you can imagine. During the morning school assembly, two of the girls from class 7 each made me these beautiful flower necklaces, which were simply gorgeous. After they all sang to me, I addressed the school briefly, thanking them for loving me and making this place feel like home for me.
Fr. John Peter cancelled school after 10:20 am for the festivities to begin! The first event was a girls’ football match. I addressed the players, inaugurated the match with the first kick, I sat in the seat of honor, and every couple of minutes the student announcer (whose commentating was literally hilarious) would exclaim, “Today we celebrate the birthday of Sister Grace!” I am not used to so much attention!
One of the most beautiful parts of the celebration was the opportunity for the students to eat lunch together. Despire the hour long “lunch break” the students take each day, no food is consumed during this time. They simply do not eat all day. Many students have an hour walk from home to school, the school day lasts form 8 am until 3:20 pm, and additionally many students remain for sports’ practices until 5pm. They consume nothing during these hours. As part of my birthday celebration, a group of girls spent two days preparing the meal from food grown and harvested by the students in the school gardens. They ground maize to make asida, a pasty, starchy food that is a mix between mashed potatoes and bread. They also cooked African peanuts, ground them, and prepared them for peanut butter. The food was delicious! I was so happy that on this day each child left school with a full meal in their belly.
But that’s not all! After lunch was the Teachers vs. Pupils football match! Some of our teachers are really intense, and the student players are amazing- they’ve made it to the semi-finals already. The game was so much fun, and the teachers played incredibly well! The whole student body stayed to watch. Unfortunately, the game ended in a tie (1:1) a bit earlier than anticipated when one of the student players collapsed, unconscious, from heat stroke. Did I mention that the day was really hot?!The excitement ended with a trip to the hospital and a few bags of IV fluid later, he was responding again and doing ok.
When I returned home a few hours later, the celebration continued in our Salesian community! The fathers and brothers prepared a big meal and we ended the night with a community viewing of Shrek 4.
I have to thank my beautiful and amazing partner, Cait, for everything she did to make the day amazing. I am so blessed to call her my mission partner and friend! I could not have felt more loved by my African family this day.
Twenty-four is a year I have been anticipating for a long while. Why? My dear St. Therese died at age 24, as did many other great saints, such as Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (soon to be Saint!), and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. No, I’m not hoping to die this next year, and I don’t think it’s in the plan. But I do believe there is a great grace associated with this age, and I want to make this a year of sanctity. These young saints accomplished such great things in their 24 years. I am so far from the holiness they achieved during their days on earth, but I hope that, by the intercession of these beautiful saints, I can become a stronger, more virtuous, more loving woman in this next year of my life. I’m so excited to be 24 here in South Sudan! I don’t know what exactly this year will bring, but I am confident that it will be unbelievable.